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Webb of influence; The former lawyer who found out that retiring aged 50 was not for him has led the oil and gas industry for the past 10 years.

Byline: Graeme Smith

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IF he hadn't strolled across the road to the pub opposite his parents house in Wiltshire, Malcolm Webb might never have found his way into the oil and gas industry.

And, but for a failed attempt at retiral, he might never have ended up leading the industry for almost a decade.

The chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, the industry association which speaks for all the production operators and around 300 contractors, started life as a lawyer.

He had finished his articles of clerkship in a small firm in The Temple in London, but decided that family law wasn't for him and was teaching law in a college of technology in Essex.

He went home for the weekend to Marlborough and decided to pop across the road for a pint in his local, the Roebuck.

"I bumped into a guy called Bob Spackman who was the recently relocated international concessions manager for the Burmah Oil Company and he just happened to mention that there was a job for a lawyer being advertised, told me which newspaper it was in and suggested I apply - and I got the job.

"This was 1974 and I didn't really know the first thing about the oil and gas industry but I was very excited by it. I have been excited by the oil industry all through my life."

Just five months into the job he accompanied Bob, by then his boss, on a trip to America to try to sell some acreage which Burmah had offshore Morocco.

Midway through the trip Bob suffered a serious heart attack, from which he fortunately recovered, but Malcolm received a message from Swindon that five months in or not the deal had to be done, so he carried on and completed it.

It was vital because Burmah was in deep trouble and within weeks had to be baled out by the Government, an event which led to Malcolm and Denis Thatcher appearing on the same news bulletin.

"He was on the Board of Burmah Oil Trading and it was just after New Year when I was filmed as one of the "worried executives returning to Burmah's offices" while another shot showed Denis Thatcher leaving."

He eventually moved to BNOC (British National Oil Company) which acquired most of Burmah's North sea assets and he became the company's legal manager for all operated activities and then one of the triumvirate of lawyers who ran the legal department.

From there he joined the small British independent, Charterhouse Petroleum, headed by oil and gas entrepreneur Tony Craven Walker.

Charterhouse was acquired by Petrofina, which has a policy of developing its managers by rotating jobs, and he was made finance director of UK operations before eventually taking charge of the UK's human resources department ahead of significant change.

As a result of his success he was posted to Brussels and a global HR role for four years which he describes as the most challenging of his career because it taught him so much about cultures on an international scale. However, Petrofina was taken over by Total and he was faced with the option of Watford or Paris. He decided it was time to take his family back to the UK and after a final six months with Petrofina made "my infamous decision to retire'.

"But of course you can't retire at 50," he said. He enrolled in his local university to do a PhD on age discrimination in the workplace. They predicted he wouldn't complete it they were right.

When BP bought ARCO Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) they were required by the European competition authorities to dispose of some of the assets in the UK and he was appointed a trustee to ensure the sale was properly handed.

He then took over as director general of the UK Petroleum Industry Association and while there saw the post of chief executive of the United Kingdom offshore operators Association advertised. He had already applied when he was approached by a head hunter and he joined UKOOA in February 2004.

"One of the first people who asked to have a meeting with me was Sir Ian Wood and at that meeting he said 'You know what you have to do don't you? You have to bring the contractors into UKOOA.'" They turned out to be prophetic words but Webb's first objective was to make UKOOA work.

By 2006, with the organisation in far better shape, and "following another drubbing from the Chancellor" it was time to do what Sir Ian had suggested and by 2008 Oil and Gas UK was the voice of an industry which provides work for 440,000 people in the UK.

It was powerful enough that Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling flew to the Raemoir Hotel near Banchory for a meeting with the Oil & Gas UK board.

Even before that it had was beginning to make its voice heard by Government: "We had an early meeting with Tony Blair in the House of Commons in his office behind the Speaker's chair and I made the point to him that the UK Government could do a lot more for the industry than it was doing and I said the Government sort of ignored us.

"He said 'I guess you're right because my tray is full of cases which need support or help or subsidy or something is going wrong and your industry doesn't need any government subsidy. It doesn't need a huge amount of government help - it gets on with business therefore I don't get to hear about it an awful lot.' "I think the industry had fallen out of the Government's sight unfortunately, save for the Treasury who occasionally could see it was a good place to go and get a few bob."

Oil and Gas UK's influence has grown ever stronger and never more so than following the Budget tax rise on March 23, 2011, a day etched in Malcolm's memory as firmly as any family birthday or anniversary.

The industry was staggered at the totally unexpected rise but the Government was left reeling by the unprecedented campaign in response led by Malcolm and his team.

It brought tax changes which have helped revitalise the industry and he believes times are a-changing and is encouraged by that both the UK and Scottish Governments have now produced oil and gas strategies, even though it has taken them 40 years to do so. Malcolm believes it is time to make the wider world aware of the huge impact the industry has, not just on the economy and jobs but on every aspect of our lives.

A survey he commissioned revealed that that 70 per cent of the British public think most of our oil and gas is imported. In fact, we produce almost 70 per cent of the oil and almost 60 per cent of the gas we need. He said: "That is a very dangerous position for the industry to be in. It puts you almost in a position of political irrelevance."

He believes that making the public more aware of the huge scale, success and importance of the industry - not least to help alleviate the skills shortage it is facing - will be an Everest-scale challenge.

But the climb has started: "We need to improve awareness and recognition of the important value we add to people's lives.

"In addition to the direct economic contribution we make, our industry is an impressive driver of innovation in science, manufacturing and engineering across the UK. "The oil and gas industry also supports a huge number of highly skilled, well-paid jobs. The Energising the Nation's Future campaign aims to ensure that our industry and our members' contributions are recognised fully for what they are - a true success story for the nation."

MALCOLM WEBB OIL & Gas UK

I think the industry had fallen out of the Government's sight unfortunately, save for the Treasury who occasionally could see it was a good place to go and get a few bob

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Success story Malcolm Webb is keen to promote the virtues of oil and gas industry
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 23, 2013
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